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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea-Man United & Man City-Arsenal

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If the Premier League must pause during this week’s international window, Sunday’s slate of fixtures, featuring every last one of the first- through fifth-place sides, sure is one heck of a way to head into the break…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Liverpool thrash West Ham; Burnley top-six contenders? ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The toast of Europe this week, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham must quickly divert its attention from beating Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday to avoiding a colossal slip-up against last-place Palace on Sunday. Spurs will surely find motivation in righting a perceived wrong — last weekend’s late defeat away to Manchester United — as they bid for a third straight PL title challenge this season. The gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City is presently eight points, but a friendly favor from their north London rivals on Sunday could see that number shrink to five.

With Harry Kane back from  last week’s hamstring “injury,” Spurs’ fitness issues now exist almost solely in their defensive half: Toby Aldeweireld left the win over Madrid with a hamstring strain of his own (expected to miss three to four weeks); Hugo Lloris was visibly ailed by a groin injury (two weeks); and Victor Wanyama remains unavailable with a knee injury. With Eric Dier expected to again drop into the backline alongside Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, Harry Winks‘ coming-out party will likely be given another chapter against an impotent Palace side which has scored only four goals all season, and has scored in just two of their 10 games thus far.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Connor Wickham (knee); RETURNING: Mamadou Sakho (calf)


Manchester City vs. Arsenal — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The last remaining unbeaten side in the PL, Pep Guardiola‘s Man City, welcomes Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal — the only manager and club to complete an unbeaten season in the PL era — to the Etihad Stadium. Having already knocked off two of their presumed title contenders (Liverpool, 5-0; Chelsea, 1-0), City aim to make it a third and extend their winning run to nine games. A 4-2 victory over Napoli, Serie A’s lone remaining unbeaten side, has City full of form and confidence. As for the prospects of chasing the unbeaten season, Guardiola is having none of it.

“I would like to say to Arsene that this record belongs to him; we are not going to break it,” he said. “He has to be calm and sure that is not going to happen. It belongs to his team, an exceptional team, because to go through the Premier League unbeaten is something fantastic. It belongs to him. He has to know that we don’t want to break this record. We want to play well and beat him on Sunday. That is what we want to do.”

Similarly, the Gunners are in the best form they’ve achieved all season, having won four of their last five after a tumultuous start (two losses from their first three games). City, though, are a beast of a much higher order, and it’s the task of Wenger’s men to curtail a side which has scored 30 goals in its last seven league games. One might assume Wenger will adopt a defensive approach on Sunday, though the legendary boss told the assembled media on Friday that “the best way to defend sometimes is to attack.”

There will be goals if that’s how Arsenal approach this game.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Vincent Kompany (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Sead Kolasinac (hip)


Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Here are some little-known facts that’ll likely gain some traction over the next 24 hours: Jose Mourinho, who’s now the manager at Man United, used to be the boss at Chelsea; he was succeeded by Antonio Conte, who won the PL title in his first season at Stamford Bridge; Mourinho, despite employment elsewhere, still appears transfixed by Conte’s threat to his own legacy; the two have engage one another in a war of words (and attempted hand-to-hand combat) in the past. You will almost certainly be reminded of this on Sunday, and probably a few further more days.

Chelsea are reeling ahead of Sunday’s clash after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday. This is, by Conte’s lofty standards, the lowest point of his Chelsea tenure — coincidentally, Mourinho knows all too well Chelsea’s post-title struggles. After losing back-to-back games to Man City and Palace last month, the Blues currently sit nine points adrift of the PL leaders and find themselves still with plenty of work to do in Europe. Even their most recent win — last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over then-19th-place Bournemouth — highlighted the lack of attacking cohesion for the side with the lowest goals output (18 in 10 games) from any of the league’s top-six sides.

Meanwhile, United are slightly more confident, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Benfica during the week and a smashed-and-grabbed three points against Spurs last weekend. Mourinho, for his part, is trying to downplay the importance of his return.

“It isn’t a big thing,” he said this week. “It is normal, it is football, it is professionalism, it is football life. It’s a big thing because it’s a big match, because it’s a big opponent. They are the champions, because it’s one of these matches between the top teams in the country, but by the emotional point of view it’s just one more game.

“I played there with Inter and twice with Manchester United. I have to admit it’s a little bit different, but in the end, I want to win, like I did with Inter, and they want to win like they did last season. In four or five more years nobody will probably remember that I was Chelsea manager.”

In truth, nothing would upset him more than everyone forgetting he was once the Chelsea manager.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Victor Moses (hamstring); RETURNING: N'Golo Kante (hamstring) | Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Michael Carrick (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (back)


Everton vs. Watford — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

While plenty has been said of Everton’s early-season struggles — and the firing of Ronald Koeman — not nearly enough attention has been paid to Watford and their new manager, Marco Silva. Three points against the 19th-place Toffees would see the Hornets rise up to eighth in the PL table, as few as one or two points behind the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom are currently level for fourth with 19 points. Like Conte and Chelsea, Silva and Watford find themselves wading through their first turbulent period together, having lost back-to-back games for the first time (Chelsea, 2-4; Stoke, 0-1). Silva knows his side must bounce back against Everton.

“I think we didn’t play well in the first-half,” Silva said of the loss to Stoke. “We gave our opponents the advantage for 45 minutes, we gave them a big lift in the goal we conceded. We made a mistake, we gave them a gift. We lost our focus in that moment and they scored a good goal. Everything was too slow and we knew they would come here with 10 men behind the ball and wait for our mistake. We needed to play faster and with more intensity.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: Micheal Keane (foot) | Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastien Prodl (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee), Isaac Success (knee), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring)

Report: Bristol City offers $4m for USMNT GK Steffen

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Championship side Bristol City has lodged a $4 million bid for Columbus Crew and USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, according to MLS insider Sam Stejskal.

Viewed as a potential long-term American No. 1 for his country, Steffen has thrived at Columbus since returning from a stint at Freiburg in Germany.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Stejskal reached Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter, who said multiple teams are interested in Steffen but did not confirm the Bristol City bid. Berhalter said, “We want to be a place where we get players and we develop them and we help them advance in their careers, wherever that may be.”

Steffen, 23, starred at Maryland before making the move abroad. He’s proven a fantastic young pro with a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

Bristol City finished 11th in the Championship last season with 30-year-old goalkeeper Frank Fielding, who had played 153 league matches for the club since 2013 and led the club to promotion from League One in 2015.

Some have openly questioned whether the Championship is a clear upgrade from MLS — don’t count this typer in that group — but this does seem like win-win for Columbus and Steffen if the player wants the move. The Championship has been good for the development of several American players including Tim Ream, DeAndre Yedlin (on loan from a Premier League club), and Lynden Gooch.

USMNT’s $72m Pulisic amongst Top 8 U-21 values in world

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USMNT and Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic is among the most valuable U21 players in the world, according to a new study.

Pulisic’s value of $71.7m is eighth-highest in the world, and he is the first American to be named to the list.

[ MORE: Adam takes shot at Shaqiri ]

The group SoccerEx uses data driven by Prime Time Sport’s Football Value Index, and it has issued U21 value reports for about a half decade. Previous winners are Dele Alli, Anthony Martial, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling.

The report deals with players born after Jan. 1, 1997, and claims to account for “personal attributes and pitch performances, using player’s current personal information and the performance of both current season and the previous one.”

That does answer the question of whether being American and carrying interest from a massive country might bump up the value a bit, though there’s little doubt Pulisic is a star (though media value is just a small part of their formula).

It comes as little surprise that PSG’s Kylian Mbappe is No. 1, coming off an amazing season for club and country which could see him win the Ballon d’Or.

Pulisic is ahead of Top 20 players Cenzig Under (Roma), Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan), Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid), and Premier Leaguers Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham).

The seven ahead of Pulisic: Gianluigi Donnarumma (7, AC Milan), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Malcom (Bordeaux), Gabriel Jesus (Man City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), and Mbappe.

This is not meant to be the latest in an eternal list of shouts at the USMNT, but imagine how high Pulisic could’ve ranked had he been able to take the stage at the World Cup in Russia.

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke suspended, fined

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NEW YORK (AP) Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke has been suspended an additional game and fined $10,000 by Major League Soccer for on-field misconduct during a game against Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The suspension announced Wednesday follows an automatic one-game game ban for being ejected from the Utah club’s 3-1 road loss Saturday night.

Petke was fined for abusive and profane language directed at officials, uncontrollable behavior when he was ejected and public criticism of officials during a postgame press conference. Real Salt Lake also was fined $10,000 fine for social media posts.

Petke will miss games Saturday night against Colorado and July 28 against San Jose.

Adam takes shot at Shaqiri as example of Stoke rot

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Xherdan Shaqiri has left relegated Stoke City for the greener Premier League pastures of Liverpool, labeling it a move in search of silverware.

Former teammate Charlie Adam thinks that’s pretty rich.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]

The 32-year-old Adam, a former Red himself, says Shaqiri was among the group of players he criticized for shrinking in big moments and not caring enough about the relegation fight.

Here’s what Adam said in May:

“I’ll be honest for the supporters, I think some players have been getting away with murder for a long time and it’s difficult for supporters. It’s not just one or two, I think there are four or five that could be counted.”

Offensively, Shaqiri had the best season of his career. The 26-year-old Swiss international scored eight goals in the Premier League, but was absent from the score sheet from March 3-April 28. Stoke collected just four points during that eight-match span, all draws.

But Shaqiri did score Stoke’s lone goal in the match which saw them officially relegated, a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace in which there’s no question the stakes were incredibly high.

Asked about Shaqiri on Thursday, Adam did not hold back.

“Was he one of them? Oh, definitely. When the chips are down you look at your big players, you want your big players to bring magic in one moment in the season, and at times we felt like the so-called big players in the squad never turned up for us and never performed.

“Yeah, everybody else could help, but for all the plaudits to so-called bigger players we getting from certain members of the management staff last season – they weren’t producing.”

Shaqiri scored in three-straight February matches, of which Stoke won exactly zero, and pitched in seven assists this season. Huh.

While we don’t know what his attitude was like around the Potteries, it’s very difficult to consider labeling his season a big reason for Stoke’s downfall.

He’s an easy man to scapegoat now, being out the door, but Shaqiri had a decent season for sure. Adam is a strong servant of Stoke, but played in less than a dozen games. This truly seems like the wrong messenger picking the wrong target, though it could help build a bit of momentum for a new season.